In promotional photos and videos, Radiohead's singer Thom Yorke frequently comes off like some ethereal, sprite-like cousin of Bjork. The band's two albums are laced with a dreamy sense of melody that holds together the lyrics' Angst. The video for "Fake Plastic Trees" features Yorke in a shopping cart rocketing through a surreal supermarket, like David Bowie's Major Tom lost in a suburban grocery store rather than outer space.
It would be natural to assume that the English quintet would take the stage with the same attitude, which is why the gritty, down-to-earth set it delivered at the Palace on Thursday was such a pleasant surprise. The layers of edgy but tidy guitars that fill its albums became a wonderfully dynamic, often raucous setting for Yorke's equally dynamic vocals and bittersweet sentiments.
The ensemble, which made an alternative-rock splash with "Creep" in 1993, flared into sawing power-chord assaults, then settled into pulsing, plucking, strumming calms while Yorke negotiated passages of evocative mumbling and delicately melancholy falsetto. The singer was as captivating to watch as he was to hear, running through a fascinating gamut of deliberate poses and spontaneous outbursts.
On the surface, Radiohead may seem to be just another outfit in the British guitar-pop micro-invasion, but there's more to them than meets the eye.